The Dallas Cowboys straight-up crushed the 2020 NFL draft. It all started when Dallas miraculously found CeeDee Lamb still available when they came on the clock at pick #17. Jerry and Stephen Jones admitted that out of all the mock draft scenarios they had run before the draft, not a single one had Lamb falling to #17. Considering they had Lamb as the #6 player on their board, they made the wise decision and drafted the Oklahoma star receiver.
Going into the draft, wide receiver was considered a need since slot guy Randall Cobb exited in free agency. The Cowboys depth at the position wasn’t exactly inspiring. But the odd thing was their starting duo at the position, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, was top-tier. So the best guess going into the draft was that somewhere in the second or third round, the Cowboys would grab a player from a very deep WR draft class. No one expected one of the top three receivers to make it to #17, especially not Lamb. When that happened, it was a little jarring that Dallas would now have three top-line receivers.
This was the Cowboys sticking to their board instead of drafting for need.
The pick: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma (No. 17)
Credit the Cowboys for going with the best prospect on their board. Michael Irvin said he was told Dallas had Lamb as its top receiver overall in this class. To get him at No. 17? That’s a steal. Lamb is a yards-after-catch machine, and he is going to produce right away as the third wideout with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.
Given that everybody had been concentrating on cornerback or edge rusher as the big needs for the Cowboys at #17, taking Lamb caused cognitive dissonance for some. The argument is always that teams should take the best player available, but when the Cowboys did just that, it caused some unusual reactions, including this one from Dan Kadar at SB Nation.
17. Dallas Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
This pick was a little strange given the Cowboys just gave Amari Cooper a five-year, $100 million contract. Also consider that Michael Gallup is a solid No. 2 receiver who had 113 targets last season. And that running back Ezekiel Elliott is on a six-year, $90 million contract. Lamb is unquestionably a great player. But how much is he going to see the ball on this offense?
Obviously that assessment was an outlier, most observers graded the Lamb pick as a home run and the steal of the first round. So while Kadar and a vocal minority on Twitter might have objected to adding strength to strength, it was a widely-praised move. Still, let’s take Kadar’s question of “how much is he going to see the ball on this offense?” and answer it.
That answer is - a lot.
And you don’t have to look very far back for confirmation, just look to 2019. In the new Kellen Moore-led offense, the role of third receiver fell to Randall Cobb, and Cobb had a huge year.
Consider that in 2019, Cobb was on the field for just under 65% of the offensive snaps. In comparison, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper were on the field for roughly 75% of the offensive snaps. That’s not a huge difference. Cooper led the team with 119 targets, Gallup was second with 113 and Cobb was third at 83 (source: pro-football-reference). The yards for each player were similarly distributed: Cooper 1,189, Gallup 1,107 and Cobb 828.
If Lamb only took over Cobb’s role he could expect around 80+ targets and 800+ yards. How would those stats compare for a rookie receiver? Last year’s rookie receiving class was one of the most successful ever with 11,653 receiving yards combined, that is the second-most by any rookie class for all-time, only coming short of the 2014 season. It was headlined by guys like Deebo Samuel (81 targets for 802 yards), DK Metcalf (100 targets for 900 yards), Marquis Brown (71 targets for 584 yards), Terry McLaurin (93 targets for 919 yards), and A.J. Brown (84 targets for 1,051 yards). Given those numbers, Lamb is perfectly in line to match what some of the biggest rookie receivers did in one of the best performances by a rookie receiving class ever.
Lamb is a special talent. Cobb was too at one time, but age and injury has slowed him. Given his 828 yards on 83 targets (that equated to 55 catches with 15.1 yards per reception), you have to wonder if Lamb could do even more with those opportunities. Lamb is a YAC machine.
PFF adds that he was able to break 26 tackles (ranking second-best in the nation), meaning once the ball was in his hands, he kept it moving downfield. Now, add all of this ability and production into the Cowboys’ offense — to a receiving corps that includes four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and rising third-year pass catcher Michael Gallup — and the NFC East could very much be the Cowboys’ to lose.
The other bonus with Lamb is that the Cowboys can move him around. He’s a natural Z-receiver but there will be no issue playing him in the slot. In 2019, Lamb had 692 offensive snaps at Oklahoma and 180, or 26%, were from the slot (source: PFF draft guide). He has plenty of experience in the slot. Not only does he have experience, he seems to excel there. On 25 slot receptions he totaled 605 yards (source: PFF draft guide). That was almost half his total yards (1,325) and a whopping 24.2 yards per reception.
Summing up, there will be plenty of touches for Lamb in this offense, and his ability after the catch may expand the third receiver role to greater heights in 2020. In fact, with the way they will be able to move Lamb around, and also allow Cooper some time in the slot, it will almost be a 1A, 1B and 1C situation at receiver for Dallas. There should be no concerns that the Cowboys won’t be able to utilize their number one pick in a way that is fitting for a number one pick.
“He’s a dynamic football player,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “He carries that alpha status. The ability to play what I refer to as all four positions, inside, outside, move around, create favorable matches as we move into the upcoming season. We want to have flexibility to move all our perimeter players around. By far felt he was a dynamic player with the ball in his hands.”